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N.J. escapee captured in $10 Mexican hotel

The first of two inmates who staged a daring escape from a New Jersey jail was found in a basement apartment a mile away, but the second was found at a "$10-a-night hotel" in Mexico City.
Inmates Escape
This undated photo provided by the Union County, N.J., Prosecutor's Office, shows Otis Blunt, 32, of Toms River, N.J.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The first of two inmates who staged a daring escape from a New Jersey jail was found in a basement apartment a mile away, but the second made it further, authorities say: He was found at a "$10-a-night hotel" in Mexico City.

Otis Blunt, awaiting trial for robbery and weapons offenses, was arrested by Mexican Federal Police on Wednesday, said U.S. Marshal James T. Plousis. He was unarmed and arrested without incident.

Blunt was expected back in New Jersey by Thursday. Since Blunt has been declared an undesirable in Mexico, there were no formal extradition proceedings expected, Plousis said.

Blunt was found at a "$10-a-night hotel," Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said. Authorities plan to question him to find out how he got to Mexico and how long he was there.

On Tuesday, federal and local authorities captured Jose Espinosa in a basement apartment a mile from the jail in Elizabeth.

Also Tuesday, authorities revealed it took guards 20 hours to realize the inmates had escaped from the most fortified section of the jail.

No evidence guards assisted
Romankow said Blunt swiped a 10-pound steel valve wheel from a standpipe in an area that should have been locked, and that the inmates used it to bash the cinderblocks between their cells and on an exterior wall. They apparently flushed the debris down the toilet, authorities said.

The escape investigation has found no evidence that guards knowingly assisted the prisoners, Romankow said. "At most we're looking at negligence by corrections officers," Romankow said.

The escape was discovered by Corrections Officer Rudolph Zurick, who found a sarcastic note left by the prisoners thanking him for his "help."

The guard committed suicide at his South Amboy home Jan. 2, the day he was to speak to investigators. Authorities repeatedly said they had no evidence that Zurick gave any aid.

When asked by reporters after his capture if he felt bad about Zurick's suicide, Espinosa reportedly responded: "It wasn't my fault."

Authorities have said the pair used photos of bikini-clad women to hide the holes they dug, a move out of "The Shawshank Redemption."

Men fled in separate directions
Guards first raised an alarm for Espinosa, 20, and Blunt, 32, about 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. The men had piled sheets under their blankets to make it appear they were sleeping.

Authorities believe the men escaped the night before by squeezing through the openings onto a third-floor rooftop, then leaping over a 25-foot-high fence topped with razor wire.

New security has been instituted since the breakout, the first since the jail opened in 1986. Head counts, for instance, are now taken with inmates standing.

Once free, the men fled in separate directions.

Espinosa, who sprained his ankle, walked north, hailed a cab at the nearby train station, and stayed in a motel before holing up in the apartment, Romankow said.

Authorities got a tip about Espinosa's whereabouts and he surrendered without incident. During his capture, a 19-year-old woman was charged with resisting arrest; it was unclear if she would face other charges.

Plousis said the Rev. Al Sharpton's visit this week to Mexico City indirectly helped in Blunt's arrest. Sharpton said he had been contacted by acquaintances of Blunt to try to arrange his surrender.

"There's no question Mr. Sharpton raised public involvement," Plousis said, adding that authorities had received several tips.

In a statement, Sharpton said, "I wish I could have been on hand to assure Mr. Blunt's safety, but clearly his calling me to where he was helped lead to the conclusion that it did, and I hope that justice for all parties will be served."